Consumer Credit and Thrift
This chapter deals with the transformation of credit across the late 19th and early 20th centuries. First, it considers the notion that credit is an essentially modern invention by detailing the history of informal modes of credit (like the tab at the country store) that existed long before the 20th century. Next, it shows how the 20th century saw a proliferation of novel forms of consumer credit, not least the diffusion of the installment plan. It argues that the new forms of credit fostered a new form of penny-pinching, or thrift. To be sure, the discipline of allotting money carefully so that one can afford to make all the monthly payments that accrue in the modern credit era not only reinstitutes thrift but recalibrates it to the patterns of mass consumption in the process. But, again, such transformation of thrift comes with a price: the credit may be easy, but the discipline of monthly interest payments is “hard”.
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